An exciting couple days for all us liberals out there. Not one, but two hat tips:
First, the good news that “we are not alone”. Liberalism is not just alive in the UK, it is positively thriving. A major feature in the Economist, of all places, states “Britain’s youth are not just more liberal than their elders. They are also more liberal than any previous generation“.
Young Britons, it turns out, are classical liberals. The Economist reports:
“…as well as prizing social freedom, they believe in low taxes, limited welfare and personal responsibility. In America they would be called libertarians.”
This totally uplifting piece goes on to say
““Every successive generation is less collectivist than the last,” says Ben Page of Ipsos MORI, a pollster. All age groups
are becoming more socially and economically liberal. But the young are ahead of the general trend. They have a more sceptical view of state transfers, even allowing for the general shift in attitudes”
And it isn’t just IPSOS MORI saying this. The same article reports
“Polling by YouGov shows that those aged 18 to 24 are also more likely than older people to consider social problems the responsibility of individuals rather than government. They are deficit hawks. They care about the environment, but are also keen on commerce: more supportive of the privatisation of utilities, more likely to reject government attempts to ban branding on cigarette packets and more likely to agree that Tesco, Britain’s supermarket giant, “has only become so large by offering customers what they want”.”
Do go read the article in full to get a warm fuzzy feeling all over.
But what to do about this?
Second: Mark Littlewood (who get’s a mention in the above Economist item as will be noted by conspiracy theorists everywhere) seems to have the answer. Writing in the Times [paywall] on Friday he suggests “The Lib Dems should try being real liberals“. In his hard hitting comment piece Littlewood (former spin doctor of the party and LV founder and blogger) points out the all-too-obvious malaise within the party:
“There is no acute leadership crisis, just a general sense that they are sinking. It is near impossible to discern what their recovery strategy is. Mr Clegg and his close advisers encourage the party faithful to “hold your nerve”…. But that sounds more like psychotherapy than a plan.”
Well said. But, this isn’t just a piece pointing out the parlous state of the party right now, he has a sensible, practical solution. Here are the key bits:
“First, they (Lib Dems) need to stop doing and saying things that have little resonance outside their declining base of party activists.”
“Second, the Lib Dems need to take a leaf out the books of many of their sister parties on the Continent. Many European politicians rightly view them as rather an odd, mixed bag with a left-leaning social democratic agenda. Not very liberal at all, in other words.”
“…the Lib Dems often come across as no more coherent than a confederation of residents’ associations. Few voters understand any driving philosophy behind their policy, merely that it is “middle of the road”.
“The party does have a strong commitment to civil liberties hardwired into its DNA, but on lifestyle issues, such as smoking, drinking or reading magazines with airbrushed photos of female models, it can’t resist the urge to agitate for greater state intrusion and control.” [see a previous post on LV "Norman Lamb: Doh!" for more on that one].
“…this actually makes a strategy of being a small state, pro-business party even more attractive — mainly because most Lib Dem MPs find themselves in close fights with the Tories”.
“A consistent, clear, genuinely liberal narrative, in which the State plays less of a role in our lives, and individuals have greater freedom to keep their own money, run their own affairs and make their own choices does not guarantee electoral success. But it surely offers a much better prospect for the Lib Dems than anchoring their ship somewhere in the centre of the ocean, as they slowly slip beneath the waves.”
Whether the appearance of his comment piece in the Times on Friday is coincidence, or deliberately timed to coincide with the Economist report, only Littlewood will know. But taking those two articles together we see not only that there is a real, and growing appetite, for classical liberalism in the UK, but there is a compelling case that Lib Dems should not just be spectators to this upswing, but capitalise on it. Britain looks ready to embrace a real liberal party – but is the party ready to be it? Here’s hoping so.